Hird relishing dream AFL clash with Blues

Funny things have been known to happen when Carlton play Essendon early in the AFL season and both Mick Malthouse and James Hird know it.

Eight seasons ago, Carlton clawed back from a 48-point deficit against the unbeaten Bombers.

In 2010, Essendon won their first match for the season over the Blues, while the clubs shared a famous draw in 2011.

The following year, with both teams 3-0, the Bombers won in front of 73,000 people when Stewart Crameri’s five goals proved the difference.

Last year’s round-three meeting might have been an 81-point belting dished up by Mark Thompson’s Bombers but Carlton boss Malthouse says the atmosphere of unpredictability still swirls around the fixture.

“It’s a strange phenomenon … there’s been some reversals of form and some upsets,” he said.

“For what reason? Is it because of the past?

“I’m not too sure but it’s a strange quirk of history.”

Essendon coach Hird, no stranger to the fixture, suggested Carlton’s poor start to the season made them a dangerous opponent.

“They know how important wins early in the season are. They know how important playing a certain style is so that you do get confidence in your style and that’s what we’re worried about,” he said.

“It’s a huge game, MCG, Saturday afternoon, against Carlton.

“I think that’s every Essendon player’s dream game and I think they’re looking forward to it.”

Malthouse said his side were desperate to atone for their two lacklustre performances and, while he might have concerns in the back of his mind, he would ensure his players were fearless.

“Yes, there’s a nagging doubt when you play like you did last week and, yes, Essendon were very good against the reigning premiers.

“But when they run down the race, my players know they have the maximum support I can possibly give them and the utmost faith.

“That won’t change because we’re zip and two.”

Carlton have made four changes for the meeting, while Essendon have swapped James Gwilt for veteran Dustin Fletcher.

Andrew Walker and Dennis Armfield play their first matches for the season, Patrick Cripps has earned a recall, while Irishman Ciaran Byrne will make his AFL debut in front of his family who have flown in from Europe.

Hird said Gwilt was desperately unlucky to miss the match.

“It’s really not a form thing. I think Dustin deserves first opportunity at that spot,” he said.

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